26 – 27 A History of St. Mary’s Parish Church, Balham

From its formation as a Proprietary Chapel to the present day.

5 July 1800

A meeting was held at the Wheatsheaf Tavern in Upper Tooting to consider erecting a chapel between Tooting and ‘Balaam’.


Agreement was finally reached to erect the Proprietary Chapel in Balaam at an estimated cost of £3000.

24 April 1808

The Chapel opened for worship with Rev’d Henry John Symons as the first Minister. The Ministers duties were: That Divine Services shall be performed in the Chapel twice on every Sunday and every Christmas Day and Good Friday and also upon every Fast Day Thanksgiving Day and other days as appointed by Government to be kept holy.

The Chapel building was a simple rectangle, the width of the present nave with a gallery on three sides. There were box pews at ground and gallery levels. The organ was on the gallery at the West End of the chapel. A pediment supported by 4 Tuscan columns faced the High Road. A roof level turret contained the bell.


The two transepts were added to increase the capacity of the Chapel. The new transepts also extended the galleries.

30 March 1851

The ecclesiastical census records a morning congregation of 654 amounting to 58% occupancy of the available seats.

24 May 1855, Trinity Sunday

The newly named St. Mary’s District Chapel was consecrated by the Bishop of Winchester, and the parish was created.

The new parish was formed from the north-west corner of the ancient Parish of Streatham during a period of new parishes being created. The first vicar was the Rev’d Richard Bellamy, who had been the minister at the Chapel since January 1848. He was to be paid from the income from Pew Rent and Surplice Fees. The churchwardens were responsible for collecting the rent and paying wages. There were no other funds allocated for maintenance or contingencies. Within the first year the church was in debt.


Land in Balham New Road was given to the church to enable an Infant School to be formed. It moved to its present site adjacent to the church in 1859.


Following reorganisation St Mary’s Church moved from the Diocese of Winchester to the newly formed Diocese of Rochester.

13 July 1879

Rev’d Bellamy died. He had ministered in Balham for over 30 years. Rev’d Thomas Bates was appointed on 25 September.

22 July 1882

The Bishop of Rochester consecrated the newly built chancel. It would be many years before it was completed to the splendour we see today.

November 1883

As Balham expanded, construction commenced on St. John’s Bedford Hill following the erection of an earlier temporary building.


The previously planned vestries were finally built, at an estimated cost of £500. A bazaar had to be held to raise the required funds.


The arms of the horseshoe gallery were removed and the box pews were replaced with open seats. The transept galleries remained.


A new west front with clock tower, belfry, domed baptistery and lobbies facing the High Road were completed, giving the church its present appearance.

6 February 1911

Canon Bates died, having been diagnosed with cancer the previous August. Rev’d Dan Bryant was Inducted on 2 June.

December 1914

By the end of the year 116 names were recorded on the Roll of Honour setup to record the names of the lost volunteers from the parish.

6 February 1920

Stained glass windows were installed in each transept as a memorial to parishioners killed during WWI.

29 April 1923

Intruders light a fire in the crypt. Fortunately it was discovered and quickly extinguished. Six local boys were later prosecuted.


The church had a very active Sports & Social Club around this time. Eric Goatham’s scrapbook of Balham in this period is available atwww.teresastree.co.uk/balham/. Eileen Dye is trying to identify everyone in the picture which can be found here.


The church only suffered minor damage during World War II. Two incendiaries landed on the north transept roof and the balcony window was destroyed.

18 December 1946

Rev’d Dan Bryant dies. Rev’d Philip Morell Smith was appointed in May the following year.

6 July 1952

Consecration of the family chapel as a memorial to Rev’d Bryant. Dry rot was discovered during the works.


Rev’d Smith resigned. (He was first vicar of St Mary’s not to die whilst in post.) The incumbency passed to the Rev’d Philip Ernest Duval in Jan 1955.


St Mary’s School 100th anniversary. A stained glass window depicting the school as seen from the drive was installed in the nave. (The present window is a 1967 copy.)


22 feet (7 metres) of ground was removed from the front of the church to allow for the widening of Balham High Road.

January 1966

Rev’d Duval left the parish. The Rev’d John Wilfred Paul was inducted on 18thFebruary.

Spring 1973

Pews were removed to create the Narthex in the area beneath the remaining gallery. A glass screen was added later.

30 January 1983

The parishes of St Mary and St John were merged, doubling the area of the parish.


The Rev’d John Paul left after 22 years in Balham. He was replaced the following year by the Rev’d Theo Hull.


In conjunction with the neighbouring Parish of Holy Trinity, Tooting a Mission Deacon was appointed to assist with the work in the two parishes.


Rev’d Theo Hull left following a period of ill health. Rev’d Dorothy Nicholson was to take up her post eighteen months later. An overnight fire destroyed the narthex and baptistery. The remainder of the church suffered smoke damage.


Following fundraising, the rebuilding works began. Over the next few years the exterior of the church was restored, the narthex recreated, a new chapel formed and gallery rooms constructed.

21 & 22 May 2005

A celebration was held to mark the 150th anniverary of the consecration and forming of the parish. Gallery rooms were dedicated by the Bishop of Southwark during the celebrations.

October 2006

The Rev’d Dorothy Nicholson retired from the Parish..

December 2006

The Rev’d Wilma Roest was Licensed as Priest in Charge on the Festival Of St. Nicholas of Myra.

26 & 27 April 2008

Celebrations were held to mark the 200th anniversary of the Chapel’s opening and the commencement of worship at St Marys.

February – April 2015

After many years of planning and fund raising restoration of the Chancel paintwork, mosaics and windows was undertaken by conservators. Additional work continued throughout the year on completing the project to leave the Chancel and Sanctuary looking the finest it has for many years. There was a service of Thanksgiving and Rededication led by the Rt. Rev’d Christopher Chessum, Bishop of Southwark on Sunday 11 October 2015.

July 2016

The Rev’d Wilma Roest left to take up a new post in Richmond upon Thames.

The future

We look forward to making further progress on our vision for St. Mary’s with:

  • completion of the garden area with new access into the church.
  • Improved links with our community through the use of our facilities.

If you wish to know more detail on the history of St. Mary’s Church we recommend David Young’s, The Church on the High Road which is available from the parish office.